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No More Fakelore: Revealing The Real Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine

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A color postcard of the Dutch Haven restaurant and gift shop in Ronks, Pa., circa 1955.

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Many of the worst clichŽes of Pennsylvania Dutch tourism come together on the cover of this brochure, published by the Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore Center in 1956.

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The Apfel & Wenrich die-cut cookbook in the shape of an Amish girl. Lancaster, Pa., 1933.

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A trading card from 1878 depicts a popular stage spoof of the stereotypical Dutchman with his Meerschaum pipe and drumhead cabbage.

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Program cover for the fifth annual Versommling (general meeting) of Grundsau Lodge Number One, Allentown, Pa., February 3, 1938.

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The Amish table becomes the Pennsylvania Dutch table in Ann Hark's children's book 'The Story of the Pennsylvania Dutch' (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1943).

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A rare 1911 postcard spoofs Groundhog Day at Punxsutawney, Pa.

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Cover of a 1943 Lancaster County almanac depicting an Amish farmer.

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The Amish table as interpreted by Weaver's Lebanon Bologna, a sausage and meat company in Lebanon, Pa.

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Menu cover with an Amish motif, the German Village, Lancaster, Pa., 1937.

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Cover of a now-scarce 1961 Amish Dutch cookbook, written by Ruth Redcay and published by Ben Herman of Kutztown, Pa.

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The cover of this 1974 cookbook features Amish girls cooking on an open hearth that is, in reality, a faux hearth in the museum of the Historical Society of Berks County, Pa.

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The Dutch Haven restaurant and gift shop in Ronks, Pa. Color postcard, ca. 1955.

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Fifty-three hundred pounds of drumhead cabbage on its way to sauerkraut near Roaring Spring in Morrison's Cove, Blair County, Pa., October 17, 1912.

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A typical Buckwheat Dutch two-room log house circa1896.

News flash: Whoopie pies are not indigenous Pennsylvania Dutch food, no matter what the tourist traps say. Nor are the seafood bisque, chili, roast beef, and other dishes crowding the steam tables at tourist restaurants in Lancaster County, Pa.

Instead, how about some gumbis, a casserole of shredded cabbage, meat, dried fruit and onions? Or some gribble, bits of toasted pasta akin to couscous? Or some schnitz-un-gnepp: stewed dried apples, ham hocks, and dumplings?

All are iconic Pennsylvania Dutch fare, according to William Woys Weaver, author of a new tome on Pennsylvania Dutch food, "As American As Shoofly Pie."

The book's subtitle, "The Foodlore and Fakelore of Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine," suggests that Weaver, who grew up with a grandfather who spoke to him only in the dialect Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch, is not taking a wholly reverent look at his native cuisine.

Indeed, Weaver seems to have had a ripping good time unmasking the fake Pennsylvania Dutch tourist culture, with its hex signs (bogus) and windmiills (faux) and buffets designed to fill up busloads of tourists on a budget.

Funnel cakes, considered by many to be echt Pennsylvania Dutch, were a rare holiday treat until they were popularized as a fund-raiser at the Kutztown Folk Festival in the 1950s, Weaver says.

Well, so much for tradition.

At the same time, Weaver has taken seriously his mission to rediscover the foods of his ancestors, interviewing hundreds of people over 30 years. A food historian, he directs the new Keystone Center for the Study of Regional Foods and Food Tourism.

Pennsylvania Dutch, he notes, isn't a synonym for Amish. Instead, it's the culture of people who came from Germany and Switzerland in the 17th and 18th centuries and settled in southeastern and south central Pennsylvania.

Some were Lutherans, some Anabaptists, some Mennonites. Some were rich enough to eat hasenpfeffer, rabbit braised in wine. Some were "buckwheat Dutch," so poor they ate rarely ate meat, and got by on "hairy" dumplings, made with shredded potatoes that stuck out when the dumplings were boiled.

"Because they were poor, they had to be creative," Weaver says. "They were eating ramps. They were eating wild asparagus. They were eating huckleberries. Of course, the Victorians wanted everything in white sauce, and looked down their noses at [that food]. But we can see it as something very close to the land."

That authenticity, Weaver says, is something that can be used to create a "new Dutch cuisine." He's talking to chefs in Pennsylvania about incorporating traditional Pennsylvania Dutch dishes into their menus. "There's good stuff out there," he says, "it just needs to be uncovered."

The recipes in the book should help; they include familiar-sounding fare like Punxsutawney spice cookies, and surprises like peach and new potato stew.

Then there are the one-pot dishes, like that gumbis. It was a frugal meal that could be cooked on a hearth or a stove. It wasn't rare for rural families to eat it without plates or silverware, Weaver says, by dipping chunks of bread in the communal pot.

"They're sort of fun for people who want to sit around and pick at things out of the pot," Weaver says. "We even have a word for eating that way. We call it schlappichdunkes -- messy gravy."

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